Bloom Energy (NYSE: BE), a California company that got its start with a NASA program aiming to to convert Martian atmospheric gases to oxygen, could play key roll in the development of future zero-emissions vessels. It has just signed a joint development with South Korean shipbuilding giant Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) to design and develop fuel cell-powered ships.
Bloom Energy’s product, the fuel-cell based Bloom Energy Server, delivers highly reliable and resilient, always-on electric power that is clean, cost-effective, and well-suited for microgrid applications.
Bloom Energy traces its roots to work performed for NASA by founder and CEO Dr. KR Sridhar in connection with harnessing Martian atmospheric gases. That led to Dr. Sridhar and his team building a fuel cell for NASA capable of producing air and fuel from electricity generated by a solar panel. In 2001, when the NASA project ended, the team decided to continue their research and start a company. By early 2006, Bloom had shipped its first 5 kW field trial unit to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. After two years of successful field trials in Tennessee, California, and Alaska, to validate the technology, the first commercial (100 kW) products were shipped to Google in July 2008.
Now Bloom and SHI will work together to realize their vision of clean power for ships and a more sustainable marine shipping industry.
“By signing this joint development agreement, SHI has a plan to develop eco-friendly ships that will lead the future of the industry,” said Mr. Haeki Jang, vice president of shipbuilding & drilling sales engineering at SHI. “Our goal is to replace all existing main engines and generator engines with these highly efficient solid oxide fuel cells to align with the International Maritime Organization’s 2030 and 2050 environmental targets.”
SHI is actively participating in all of the relevant activities during the joint development, from early studies to project completion. In tandem, Bloom Energy has created a dedicated, cross-functional team of engineers to adapt its servers to the unique requirements of the marine environment.
SHI and Bloom Energy are actively working towards the next milestone in this development with a target to present the design to potential customers in 2022. Following commercialization, the two companies anticipate that the market for Bloom Energy Servers on SHI ships could grow to 300 megawatts annually.
“The marine shipping industry has the ability to make a substantial impact on emissions and air quality at ports and across our planet,” said Dr. Sridhar. “We see a collaboration with one of the world’s largest shipbuilders, SHI, as a moment to make measurable strides in reducing emissions and extending our mission for clean, reliable energy to the seas.”
The joint development agreement between SHI and Bloom Energy follows an Approval in Principle for fuel cell-powered Aframax crude oil tankers from DNV GL, announced in September 2019. The next class of ship to be submitted for design approval will be an LNG carrier.